A few weeks ago, I took my son Scotty to a friend’s birthday party. An acquaintance remarked at how Scotty has grown, and mentioned that her friend recently adopted through the same agency we used. We naturally compared my child’s adoption with her friend’s child’s adoption. Same agency. Same years of exhausting, hopeless infertility treatments. Same outcome: FINALLY, they brought home an infant. Then my friend said, “Their adoption is completely closed.” Different.
I said, “I’m surprised. I read and hear that birth parents are requesting open adoptions more often these days.”
She asked, “Is your adoption open?”
My son is six years old, so I’ve had hundreds of adoption conversations. When people ask how we, a freckled and blue-eyed couple produced a child with chestnut eyes, olive skin, and pale blonde hair, or where Scotty got his natural golf swing, I win the opportunity to educate them about modern-day adoption.
Once the conversation begins, I choose how much I will share. That can depend on the setting, how close I am to the individual, my trust in the his/her discretion, the good I think may come from sharing, and, honestly, sometimes, my mood.
We had a couple of hours to kill at that kindergarten crowd birthday party, and I will see this young mother many times over the next few years, so I abandoned small talk and went for something more interesting.
I answered her question. I said, “Our adoption is WIDE open.”
I knew exactly what questions, in what order, would come after I said that. When I answer questions about our open adoption, I have specific goals.
• Debunk negative myths about birth families.
• Teach others to reflect on the grief, strength, and struggles of birth and adoptive parents.
• Remind people that children often associate shame and secrets, and that open adoption can be healthy for children.
• Help others understand that humans have the capacity to grow and love in ways they cannot comprehend until given the chance.
So, the questions and answers flowed as they typically do. My answers are in bold.
How often does he, Scotty, see his biological family?
About three to four times a year.
Is it weird?
Yes, it is a little weird sometimes. And always emotional for me. Even after six years, I am still in awe that two people gave me their child. But, we are more comfortable around each other now.
Is it hard for you to see him with them?
Not anymore, but it is fascinating to see how nature and nurture reflect in his little mannerisms and personality.
What about the birth father? Where is he?
He’s out of state, so he’s only seen Scotty once. We welcome him, but our relationship is different from what we have with the birth mother.
How old was she when she had him?
So, she was young.
Actually, not really. I learned that the average birthmother is in her late twenties.
I figured most birth mothers are teenagers.
Think about it. Teenagers live at home, so many times their parents help them raise their children.
I never thought of it like that.
Well, adoption is extremely complex. Some birth parents are married. Some are older than the adoptive parents. Some have children already.
And some are on drugs. Was his mother on drugs?
No. She’s healthy, sweet, and smart.
How often do you talk to her?
Every week. Honestly, I think she’s more attached to me than she is Scotty. I kind of mentor her. And I care about her.
Could she ever get him back?
No. I’m his legal mother, as legal as if I birthed him myself.
Don’t you think open adoption could be hard on Scotty?
Everything about adoption is hard, except loving the child. In our situation, if Scotty has questions about his heritage, he can simply ask his birth family. Scotty’s birth family and I want him to thrive. If that means lessening contact, we will do that. Remember, they love him, too. And, obviously, they will sacrifice for him.
I always point out that, in the beginning, closed adoptions were all I knew. My husband Jeff was adopted in 1963. We have two typed pages on which a state social worker described Jeff’s biological family members’ height, weight, education levels, and his diet of Karo syrup formula. When we applied to adopt almost forty years later, I figured we’d follow suit. I was wrong, but I opened my heart and mind, and have been profoundly rewarded. I cannot imagine our adoption being anything less than WIDE open.